Organizing with Nicole Anzia - Home Front

Nicole Anzia
Mar 15, 2018

Nicole Anzia founded Neatnik in Washington in 2007 to share her organizing abilities with people and help them simplify their lives. She believes that when people feel in control of their surroundings, they are better able to reach personal and professional goals. She writes an organizing column for The Washington Post and recently wrote about pantry and kitchen organization.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than 10 years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

Nicole Anzia launched her organizing business, Neatnik, in 2007. She’s been helping people all over the the DC area bring calm and order to their homes ever since. She writes a monthly organizing column for The Washington Post. Nicole lives in Washington DC with her husband and two daughters. 

Good morning everyone. Thank you for having me, Jura! I'm excited to be here and am looking forward to your questions about kitchen organizing. Let's get started!

Our kitchen pantry is a closet, I'm guessing about 3 feet wide. It has standard wire shelving, which I hate -- the back is where canned and boxed good go to die (!) I have not been successful in finding a source for slide-out drawers to fit this configuration....since it's a closet, the sides are not flush with the door frame, so I guess we'd have to build out the sides, too Any sources / ideas? THANKS!

Hi there, I encounter this problem a lot. I would recommend using containers like the Container Store''s Linus Deep Drawer bins. They come in a variety of sizes. Here's the link.

They do work well in drawers, but they also work well to keep like items together and upright in a pantry and you can pull them in and out pretty easily to get items in the back. Labels on the front - "Rice and Pasta," Snacks," "Canned Vegetables" will also help to keep things organized. I hope this helps!


Our DD raided our kitchen when she attended college. With the exception of one pot and a knife, I did not miss a thing. She stocked her kitchen from my excess stuff. Then drat it she bought all of it back when she graduated.

We don't need that much stuff - you're right! Most of us use the same 10 tools over and over and never touch any of the other gadgets. Maybe you should have cut a deal with her before she took everything that she would have to find a new home for it after she graduated. :)

I'm so excited about this topic! My husband and I are moving soon, and plan to get rid of things as we pack (last time, we didn't have much notice and packed a bunch of stuff, only to donate a lot of it after we moved). I want to take advantage of having a new house to come up with an organizational system that I can actually stick to. Most of my plans (especially in the kitchen and pantry) end up falling by the wayside within a few weeks. I'm curious if you have any tips for a) organizing a new house and b) sticking to the system.

Good for you for thinking about discarding items while you pack. That puts you in a great position for unpacking in the new home. One major tip is to not just put things away just for the sake of putting them somewhere. Of course, it's great to get things off the floor and into storage spaces, but once you put things away, they may not ever get truly organized - out of sight out of mind. Also, don't feel like everything has to be perfect immediately. It will take a few weeks or months for you to settle in and know how you want to make use of various spaces. That being said, as you bring new things in, be conscious of where things belong and make it a habit to put things in there place as soon as possible. And last, don't feel like you have to fill every space. It's ok to have unfilled spaces. Good luck and congratulations on your new home!

Where should you keep paper towels?

I still like the under the cabinet paper towel holders because they make access easy and save counter space!

What if you don't have a lot of drawer space or cabinet space in your kitchen? What are the main items you should keep on the counter?

The things on your countertop should be the things you use most often. Things like a coffee maker, a toaster, and the utensils you use most often. If you're short on cabinet and drawer space, get creative - can pots and pans be hung from a wall-mounted or ceiling mounted pot rack? Can knives be hung on a magnetic strip? Can wine glasses hung on under-the-cabinet racks? My column that ran on 2/22 addressed this very issue. Take a look! I hope this helps!

The best item I've bought to clear counters and collect appliances is "rev-a-shelf", or equivalent. This not an ad - I have one in every base cabinet, installed them myself (60+ female), and get a chuckle every time I roll one out, especially the one with my heavy stand mixer.

Thank you for the suggestion! These do work well!

This is so timely! I'm moving and the new kitchen is larger than the old one and includes a pantry. Any general advice on how to set it up for the most functionality? Any common mistakes I should avoid? I'm really looking forward to not having to move 2 other things to get to the thing I'm looking for!!!

Congratulation on the new, larger kitchen! My advice - put things where you'll use them. I know that sounds obvious, but your spices should be near the stove. Your glasses should be near the sink and refrigerator. Plates and silverware should be easy to access and close to the space where you'll be eating. And as a rule, like things should be put with like things, i.e. plates with plates, mugs with mugs, glasses with glasses. However, there are exceptions. Martini glasses you use only a couple of times a year, don't need to be placed with other glasses if you need that space for something use use more often. And don't feel like you need to fill every space just because you have it. Also, labeling shelves, bins and drawers, can be helpful to keeping things organized over time. Good luck!

My house has reached a level of domestic chaos that I didn't think was possible. We have a decent sized house with plenty of storage space, but we simply cannot seem to put things away. Add to this the fact that my father recently died and we are clearing out his house. I'm not keeping everything, but am keeping some of of it. But the thought of integrating a slew of new possessions into our current mess is sending me into straight-on panic mode. Any thoughts on how to manage all this?

I'm sorry about your father's death. Inheriting things from parents can be both a blessing and a curse. Often times when clients tell me that things don't get put away, it's because things don't have a designated space or there's no room. Does everyone in your household know where office supplies should be, where to put hats, gloves and shoes, and where to put incoming mail? I don't mean to make this sound easier than it is, but I would start by designating specific spaces for things and then make sure that there is ample room within that space to put things away. Involve everyone to see what makes sense to them and how everyone can pitch in. For your father's things, I would wait to sort out and organize your home first, and then deal with that. Don't try to do it all at once. Also, set small, achievable goals. So don't plan to spend a whole weekend organizing your house. Spend one hour on Saturday, cleaning out the pantry, or the coat closet. Getting started is the hardest part, but you can do it. And if you need help, call in a friend or a professional. Good luck!


What's your best advice on organizing spices in a very small kitchen?

Risers inside cabinets help to maximize space and allow you to see your spices. Measure your cabinets before you go to buy one. If you're really tight on storage space, it's ok to keep your most frequently used spices out near the stove. And last, go through your spices a couple of times a year and toss those that are expired or that you never use. Many of us use the same 8 or 10 spices and the others that we bought to cook one thing just sit there for years. Good luck!

I have to laugh at the frequency with which I see clear cabinet doors recommended: they require someone have enough cabinet space that you can afford a purely decorative show arrangement. They are not useful. Also, the advice to group like-use items together conflicts with practicality - I am short and can only reach the lowest shelf of my cabinets with ease. I do have a stool, but practicality demands that it is the most-used items that populate the lowest shelf. This is not very decorative.

I agree on both counts! For most people, clear cabinet doors are not a great idea. And, as I just noted in a response to another question, putting like items with like items is a good idea, but there are exceptions. Without question, you should put what you use most often where you can reach it. I'm only about 5'1" so I totally understand the predicament. Last, there is no absolute "right" way to organize a space. Do what works best for you!


You mention putting glasses near the sink and fridge. But my sink and fridge are at the opposite ends of the kitchen. In your work as an organizer, if you were building a kitchen, where you put big things like the stove, microwave, fridge, and sink/dishwasher in relation to each other and to storage?

The concept of the "kitchen work triangle" is still what I think most kitchen designers use to guide their design. Take a look:

I have a small kitchen, and haven't found a good place to store summer and outdoor supplies. I have the smaller grill tools shoved in a drawer, but there is so much stuff that will be used often starting in a couple months, but otherwise need to be out of the way. Any ideas appreciated! p.s. no garage or outside storage available.

Summer can't come soon enough, can it?! Are you talking about kitchen items only? If so, I wonder if you could use some clear plastic bins with tops (and labels, if possible) to corral all your summer entertaining supplies and just store them elsewhere for 6-8 months out of the year. Maybe on a shelf in your basement, maybe in guest closet?

If you have extra wall space and don't mind having things out in the open, we found small spice racks at Bed Bath and Beyond -- one of the best purchases I've ever made there. And we don't lose any counter or cabinet space for storage.

Great point! And there are a couple of stores that sell metal containers that can hang from magnetic strips.

Is there any good solution to organizing those pesky plastic containers and lids? It is the one cabinet that gives me anxiety everytime I open it! Thanks for your help...

I use bins inside my deep drawers to organize plastic containers and lids. I keep all the lids in one container, where they mostly sit upright, and then another bin for the small plastic containers. The remaining space has a few of the larger plastic containers. Also, keep the number of plastic containers you keep on hand to a minimum and clear out those without lids every few months. Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution, but the biggest problem tends to be how quickly those containers multiply!

Hi Jura, I just discovered your chat last week--thanks for the great advice I've found so far! I had a question about painting cabinets. When we put our house up for sale last year, our agent and stager STRONGLY recommended we paint our honey oak kitchen cabinets white to make them more contemporary. Okay, fine. But they also stressed we should only use flat paint, not satin, as it's cheaper. So, we hired professional painters with those instructions, and they did a nice job. However, it was very hard to keep them clean looking and keep the paint from coming off before we moved. Our agent's take on it was, well, it won't be your problem to deal with much longer. Fast forward 2 months, and we moved into our new house. SAME PROBLEM! We've now been there 9 months and I can't tell you how many weird discolorations we've created from occasional splatters that we've tried to wipe up (damp paper towels, soft sponges, lysol, etc.). Maybe we're just messy cooks, but my question really is: why would anyone suggest using flat paint for cabinets when they show their wear so fast and are so difficult to effectively clean? I checked the per-gallon pricing, and it was at most $3-5 difference to buy satin, which would have lasted so much longer and been easier to clean. We've committed to repainting our cabinets in satin (and in a color we like better) this year.

Yikes! So sorry you had that happen to you. Thanks for sharing this story. Yes do not go with the cheapest solution to a problem - and flat paint is not a good idea for cabinets  - that is the message.

Am I allowed two questions? 1. Papers are my kitchen organization nemesis. It seems to be everyone's drop spot and I feel like I've tried everything. What are some of the most successful strategies you've seen for this? 2. What are good sources for ceiling fans beyond the big box stores? (I know opinions vary on ceiling fans but this one is staying)

In my own house I have a rule that our kitchen "peninsula" needs to be cleared off at the end of the each night. Some nights it's not totally clear, but my kids and husband know that in general, this is not their dumping ground. But if you know that family members will continually put there things there - and they are getting in the way of making your countertops useful, think about using some wall pockets and give each family member one of the slots. That way, there is an alternative, easy to access place for people to put their things. Make a rule that they be emptied at the end of each month. Hope this helps!

After trying several spots I ended up putting some command hooks on an outer side of a cabinet to hang the grill tools there, figuring I could take them down in the off season with ease. I liked it so much I just keep them there all the time now.

Love command hooks! Thank you for the suggestion!

My parents have a small NYC apartment, so they have to maximize space. Items like large serving dishes that they only use for parties are the in upper cabinets, which require a step-stool to reach. My favorite thing they've done is create a diagram of what is in each of those cabinets. That way, they don't have spend time searching and everything is always put back in the same place after each party.

Love this!

Can't listen in later so here's my question. I have LOTS of photos to organize from 40+ years and I need a recommendation for a good way to scan them in so I can preserve them digitally. Can you recommend easy to use scanners or multi use machines. My current Epson printer does not scan well so I need help. Thanks!

My first question is do you really want to scan all of those photos yourself? If not, you could contact your local photo shop to see if they offer a scanning service. Another option is - you ship them your photos, they scan them, and send them back to you.

I painted my cabinets but first used the Kilz No prime and then 2 coats of semi gloss white paint - Lowe’s brand & about 8 years later they are starting to show wear

Thanks - this is great info.

Any hints for where to put everything? I have new cabinets (the granite isn’t here for another two weeks, so I have time to think), plus an old pantry. Items to return to the cabinets (I replaced the main lower cabinet with two big drawers) in addition to everyday dishes, glasses, wine glasses, beer glasses, coffee mugs, i have glass storage containers plus some old plastic storage containers, platters, serving dishes, mixing bowls.... I would love to get my big stand mixer off the floor of the pantry (it’s a small pantry, like the size of a closet in an old house). I also have canisters that no longer fit on top of the fridge! Glass pie plates. Glass casserole dishes. I have warned my husband that he won’t be able to find anything once I reload! Any suggestions would help clear this up in my head!

Congratulations on your new cabinets! If your pantry is small, you could consider using a pull out drawer in one of your small cabinets for the stand-mixer. Also, make sure you maximize shelf space by using stackable bins in the pantry or portable shelf risers in the cabinets. Put the less frequently used items up high in the pantry or in the kitchen and put the glasses you use most frequently in your kitchen. Others can be stored elsewhere if you have limited space. And you definitely want your husband to know where to find things, so he can help with clean up!

We used Shelf Genie for custom pull out shelves in the pantry and our lower cupboards. We had the same problem that the shelves were wider than the door frame, so the drawers had to fit within the frame; however, it left enough room on the sides to put things we don't use often, but need access to, like our fire extinguisher, extra rolls of foil. Worked great and we loved it! We've since moved to a new house and I miss it all the time. Thinking about calling them again to do a new install!

Thanks for sharing!

I've had major remodeling (kitchen and both bathrooms) done in the past year, and I bought most of my fixtures from Faucets, towel bars, light fixtures, and a ceiling fan. They have thousands of items to choose from (it can get overwhelming) but you have a lot more choices than what you see at Home Depot and Lowe's.

Glad to know this.

I am looking for glass food storage containers, hopefully with glass lids. I was hoping to find ones that I can stack in my cabinet when not being used. Any suggestions?

Organizing chats are always so fun. Nicole thank you for sharing all your wisdom about kitchens and other places in our homes that need help. Next week we will be talking major appliances with Mark Hottenroth of GE Appliances. Thanks everyone and hope there aren't any more blizzards this week. See you next week.

I have a small kitchen with a table and two chairs in one corner. We never sit there, because the table AND the chairs have stuff piled on them. Mostly pots & pans that don't fit in the cupboards. You have inspired me to install a couple of shelves on the wall above the table. I'm thinking of those vinyl-coated wire shelves, are they hard to keep clean?

They are not too hard to keep clean, but I would recommend something with a lip on the front to keep things from falling off. Any maybe consider something colorful. Spring is right around the corner! Good luck.

Thank you everyone for the fun chat! I hope this was helpful. You can find all of my organizing columns online at The Washington Post or on my website at

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Nicole Anzia
Nicole Anzia is the owner of Neatnik, a professional organizing business she started in 2007. She helps her clients simplify their lives by bringing order to their homes and offices. Nicole also writes a monthly organizing column for The Washington Post. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and two daughters.
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